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Wolfram Alpha Gets Into Local Search — Very Badly
It’s unlikely to impact Google or Yelp in any way but Wolfram Alpha is getting into local search. According to a blog post today users can now search online or on its mobile apps for nearby businesses in a range of categories (chains only right now):
Wolfram|Alpha now knows the locations of some 2.4 million retail establishments for 1,300 major chains in 220 different categories—gas stations, restaurants, department stores, and much more. It also knows the typical business hours for roughly one third of those locations, which makes queries like that one possible.
When I tried it online (PC) the user experience proved to be very poor. It located me in the wrong city — I’m in an LA hotel right now and it’s probably a case of IP targeting getting it badly wrong. However in search after search (even with geomodifiers in the query) it located me in Dallas, with no easy or obvious way to manually change location. My efforts to do so were consistently frustrating.
When it works the information provided is very basic. Using Google, Yelp, Foursquare or IYP sites is going to be faster and much more effective. There’s also no evaluative (e.g., reviews) or much enhanced information available. In other words, there’s nothing to set local search on Wolfram Alpha apart from other local sites.
I tried the HTML mobile site and the results were no better. I did not use the Wolfram Alpha mobile apps and so cannot report on that experience. However I cannot imagine it’s much better than the PC or HTML mobile site experiences.
It was a mistake for Wolfram Alpha to publicly announce this capability when it’s in such poor shape. The company needs to work through the usability problems but more fundamentally needs to answer the question: Why would I want to use it for local search?